OPINION: Forest are not defensively incompetent, they just lack leadership


It was the best of games. It was the worst of games…

The polaric opposites of another frenzied Forest display are truly something to marvel at: Bearing down on goal, there can’t be a scarier sight than Oliver Burke’s rapturous pace and youthful effervescence.

The one-man stampede that makes Superman look like Eamonn Holmes. The only thing that comes close to parity with the Burke fear factor is the man chiselled from pure steel: Britt Assombalonga.

More than just a powerhouse who could bench-press a Transit van, his foresight and reading of a game matches the God-given instincts of the very best strikers in the world – Indeed, it was this deadly perception on Saturday that lead him to pounce on an under-hit back pass and score the opener.

Then again, there can’t be a more appealing sight than the absolute chaos that is reigning in the Forest defence.

I find it completely bizarre that they have collectively lost the ability to win headers, mark their respective men and effectively stand up to an attacker. Perhaps four games in isn’t quite a time for crisis, but there is certainly a huge issue that MUST be addressed.

I’m sure many publications and columnists dedicated to Forest will be saying the exact same thing today.

It’ll be a moan about the problem, a retrospective look back at what went wrong, and a suggestion to throw money at new players. Yet, with all due respect, I think that’s a very easy way to just merely paper over some cracks

OPINION: Oliver Burke has carried Forest

I personally believe we have been hit hard by Dorus De Vries leaving. There’s now a definite lack of communication, which is a sure-fire way to drain confidence. Not only was he a sharp shot-stopper and a commanding aerial presence, but he talked.

A LOT. For 90 minutes straight, for every game he played, De Vries didn’t just tell his defenders what to do. He barked his instructions at them. His voice resonating like a foghorn from one end of the pitch to the other.

Even sat in Upper Bridgford, you could hear him from his net at the Trent End.

Losing a man of such authority and responsibility was always going to have a dramatic impact on how Forest would attempt to shut the opposition out. Unfortunately for us, that impact has been instant… and it will become a lot more unforgiving once we stop scoring four goals every home game.

However, do I think we need a radical overhaul? Do I believe these players aren’t good enough? My answer is a resounding no. In my eyes, we have a fantastic assembly of defensive players who have the ability to play at a higher level. We all know that Michael Mancienne is a high-class centre-back – possibly one of the best we’ve seen at the City Ground in the last ten years. Thomas Lam is coming off the back of playing a leading role in PEC Zwolle’s best ever seasons in the Eredivisie, aged just 22. Matt Mills is a ferocious competitor, and when he channels that aggression properly (which is more often than not), Forest are much more solid as a defensive unit.

Then there’s Hildeberto Pereira. What can you not love about this guy? Endless energy.

Those twinkle toes that danced through the Wigan defence on the way to set Lam up for Saturday’s winner. Plus, no Forest players’ hair has had so much attention since Karl Darlow spent his match days preening himself…

However, that ‘raging bull’ of Pereira is more ‘bull in a china shop’ when it comes to defending. Don’t get me wrong, I never want to see him lose that fighting spirit, because it is exactly that what is enamouring him to the Forest fans in such a short space of time, but I don’t think he should be playing right-back. He needs to be unleashed further up the pitch; the shackles need to be cast away and thrown into the Trent, never to be seen again. You simply cannot do that when you have defensive responsibilities, and this position is one better filled by Eric Lichaj, a standout player from last season’s carnival of mediocre.

I believe we will get over our defensive jitters sooner rather than later and find that confidence we need to progress, but Phillipe Montanier – a man who I must admit is charming my socks off at the moment – needs to do two things:

Bring in a new goalkeeper - I have absolutely nothing against Henderson, despite a tough start for the lad. Yet he needs another senior goalkeeper there with him, to provide serious competition and to have someone in training to learn from and work with to develop certain aspects of his game.

. Choose a defensive line up, and keep it – Defences are built upon the pillars of understanding and familiarity. Montanier needs to ditch his rotation policy for this situation, pick out the men he sees as his best options, then stick with them for an extended period. He even has the option of sticking Cohen at left-back as a temporary solution. The skippers’ calming influence could help the others settle down quicker and certainly go some way towards restoring a bit of confidence and assurance at the back.

Obviously, this is football and no solution is ever the simple one. If anything, I am beginning to feel like a real buzz-killer, trying to find a way to stop these entertaining 4-3’s and last-minute winners.

Upon reflection, six points from four games is perhaps a fair return, considering the two tough away games we’ve had and Montanier’s brave, yet well-received gamble to play an exciting clutch of academy graduates from the very start. A win against Leeds on Saturday would really be a chance to lay the foundations for us to make the City Ground ‘Fortress Forest’ once more…